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10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 34-27 Win Over Iowa State in Ames

A wild Big 12 goes in OSU’s favor (for once).




Oklahoma State’s head football coach — whose annual salary exceeds $5 million — tucks his hooded sweatshirts into khaki pants with a leather belt and somehow all of that makes far more sense than college football as a sport.

Gundy’s reeling Cowboys — losers of two straight to Baylor and Texas Tech — went to Ames, Iowa on Saturday as a 10.5-point underdog where they hadn’t lost since the year which shall not be spoken of, and they leave not having lost since the year that will not be spoken of. To make things even more confounding, they didn’t score an offensive touchdown for the final 36 minutes of the game.

We’ll get to all that in a bit though.

Spencer Sanders was 16/24 for 249 yards, a pair of TDs and a ghastly interception against the Cyclones as his offense posted 27 points in 13 drives. Chuba Hubbard had 116 yards on 22 carries (a miniscule number for him) and posted his 10th 100-yard game in his last 12. Tylan Wallace (who flexed all over the state of Iowa in the first quarter) put up 131 on eight catches.

The defense was the real story for these Pokes though as they turned Iowa State over three times (all in the fourth quarter), which marks just the second time in the Jim Knowles era that they’ve generated three or more turnovers in a game.

There is much to talk about, but first a shout to Thrive Landscape and Irrigation. The field at Jack Trice could use some of their handiwork following the 143 plays that were run on it (specifically the marks Chuba and Tylan left on long TDs) on Saturday. But seriously, if you live in Stillwater, call them. 

Onto the 10 thoughts.


The first half was foreshadowing. KHP tied the all-time pass breakup record for a single game in the first 30 minutes as he batted down five Brock Purdy tosses (he went on to set a new school record in the second half with six total on the day), and OSU got their hands on seemingly everything Purdy threw.

The avalanche didn’t come until the fourth quarter, but when it came it obliterated Iowa State’s Alamo Bowl dreams. Here’s the best way I can contextualize it.

Over the last four Iowa State offensive drives …

Iowa State gained 27 yards and did not score
Oklahoma State gained 32 yards and scored a TD

Malcolm Rodriguez delivered what would eventually serve as the knockout blow with 6 minutes left before Amen Ogbongbemiga and Tre Sterling put them away for good with picks on the last two ISU possessions.

More numbers for OSU.

  • 84 tackles
  • 11 pass breakups
  • 6 tackles for loss
  • 5 QB hurries
  • 3 INT
  • 2 sacks

It wasn’t just the pass breakups and picks either. It was coverage pressure like you see in the screenshot below. In no world, should OSU be getting pressure on Brock Purdy here with a three-man rush, but OSU’s secondary was so lights out on Saturday that this ended with Purdy scrambling for his life.

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 4.40.49 PM.png

Don’t be fooled by their mostly-putrid history either. Iowa State came into the game No. 12 in the country in points per drive at 3.06 (think: 2012 Oklahoma State), and OSU just pounded them to the tune of 1.8 points per drive on Saturday. Following maybe the least efficient performance in the Gundy era from this defense, they got one of the better ones of the last few years.

All the cigars for Jim Knowles tonight.

2. offense

On the flip side (!) the fact that OSU’s defense outscored its offense over the final 36 minutes of the game seems at least mildly problematic. Somehow OSU notched just 125 yards on its final eight offensive drives, scored six points and won a game in which it was a double-digit underdog. Again, college football is the weirdest, most bizarre sport on the planet, and as a proprietor of a website that covers the thing, I am very grateful for this.

The question I keep going back to is not why Spencer Sanders makes the decisions he makes. Although that is a fair question. The question I keep going back to is, Where on this good planet is that offense I watched at Oregon State?

The problem with the way OSU played in the first half when it scored 21 on Iowa State is that its scores were more a derivative of having two top-50 NFL Draft picks than an offense that finally put itself into the groove we’d all like to see it in (I said this in the Chamber early .. you can timestamp me if you’re interested). Chuba houses a big one and Tylan puts half the defense on the ground and goes 71 yards, and … that’s your offense?

If the alternative is Stoner screens and LD up the middle, then yeah, sure. But the natural trajectory here when you don’t hit home runs on 2-2 sliders (which is kinda what you’re trying to do by taking screen passes and draws to the house) is eight drives to end the game without a TD. Where’s the rhythm? Where’s a forward flow?

Go to 2nd and 10 at 8:20 in the 4th. A designed QB run to the short side of the field in the 4th quarter of a tied Big 12 game in which you’re a heavy road dog. It just reeks of throwing your hands up in the air and saying “we’re running the Sigma Nu A team offense now but with superior athletes.”

I expect better than that. I expect better than having more turnovers than TDs in the second half of games against Baylor and Iowa State over the last two weeks.

OSU’s defense saved the day on Saturday, but betting on that for the rest of the year is like rolling with Todd Monken to Vegas in July. You can do it, but it probably isn’t going to end the way you want it to end.

3. Iron Tylan

A professional football player playing against amateur football players. This is what that looks like. A former pro used words I cannot pin on this family-friendly blog, but they echo what I think everyone was probably thinking as Tylan put one, two, three, four, five Cyclones on the ground. It was Josh Stewart against TCU all those years ago, but with stiff arms instead of speed.

No. 2 is truly a monster.

4. Why Time of Possession Actually Mattered

Normally I look down my nose at TOP and leave it for folks who started covering football in the 1960s to holler about. But in this game, time of possession equated to plays run, and OSU’s defense got abused until the very end.

At one point in the fourth quarter, the Cyclones had nearly doubled OSU’s total plays, and it ended 88-55 in favor of ISU. This is a byproduct of hitting a couple of home runs and punting the rest on offense of course, but the disparity here has only happened one other time in the Gundy era.

The only other instance in which an opponent has run more than 85 plays while OSU has run fewer than 60 was in 2015 for that incredible TCU game in which OSU ran 53 plays and TCU ran 110. A hundred and ten!

That’s why what Knowles’ side did on Saturday is all the more remarkable.

That 55 number, by the way, is the seventh-fewest run in a game in the Gundy era and the fewest in four years (since that TCU game).

5. Appreciating Ammendola

Great kickers — like great sound A/V technicians — are only noticed when they screw up. Ammendola hasn’t missed since the OU game last year and has now hit 15 in a row. He hit a 40-yarder and a 49-yarder like they were chippies and even pounded one of them at the evil end of Jack Trice in the second half of a real game.

We bemoan special teams — rightfully so for the most part — but Ammendola and his streak are both worth appreciating. Especially in a game where you couldn’t find the endzone on eight straight drives to close it out.

6. Three Play Calls

1. The fake punt with Metcalf at QB: All the LOLs. I have no idea what was going on there, but I do know you don’t call a timeout at the beginning of the third quarter to save five yards on a punt. I actually wish they would have snapped it just to see what transpired.

2. The 49-yard FG at the end of the 3rd: OSU was on ISU’s 32. I thought they should have gone for it. It was 21-20 at that point, and Iowa State was picking up steam. Ammendola from 50 seemed ok, but a four-point lead didn’t feel sustainable (spoiler: it was).

3. 4th down at midfield: Didn’t hate the call, did hate the play. Chuba had been a non-factor since the 65-yarder — mostly because OSU’s OL isn’t anywhere near as good as we thought early — and ISU was loaded up on defense. It worked out in the end, but boy would Gundy have been torched if it hadn’t.

7. Effect of good defense on Sanders

Was Sanders good? I don’t know. Do the plays OSU runs help him? Probably not. Was his interception a decision on par with some of the worst in record western civilization history? It might have been.

I think the frustrating part about Sanders is two-fold.

The first can be seen in the screenshot below. He gets jumpy and won’t set his feet, and he had Chuba wide open on this crossing pattern and if he takes like 0.5 seconds longer to turn himself the other way and toss it, it’s a first down. He has the goods — I think he has the goods (again, I’m going to the bottom of the sea on this ship) — but it has yet to truly click for him. At least not in the Big 12. At least not since a couple of plays against Texas.

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 5.34.42 PM.png

The second thing is that I feel like he’s not really set up all that well for success on this offense. Granted, I don’t know what setting him up for success might look like specifically, but I’m pretty sure him sprinting to either sideline while looking downfield for somebody to get open — while it might feel a little safer at times than him standing in the pocket — just ain’t it.

My biggest takeaway though? How fascinating the win-loss effect is on the perception of him as a franchise QB. Grace goes much further when your defense picks Brock Purdy off three times in the fourth quarter. Here are the #narratives.

If OSU had lost: Sanders needs to be benched, not getting it done.
Because OSU won: I see the skills! There’s room for him to grow!

And none of it really had anything to do with him. I badly want for No. 3 to be good because I think if he’s good then he can be great. But even in a win, it felt like the ship was trembling as he tried to steer it into the harbor.

8. Another One

No. 30 chewed off his 10th 100-yarder in his last 12, but it wasn’t as pretty as the rest of them. Sure, the 65-yard boat race was a triumph, but other than that? He had 51 yards on 21 carries. That’s 2.4 a carry. Or basically Corndog falling over at the line of scrimmage.

As noted above, this is probably an offensive line issue more than anything, but I kept expecting him to get free like he did in that video above. Side note: If he gets one step on the first level on 3rd and short or 4th and short, 👋.

9. Real Skill Outside of Tylan

Two plays stood out outside of Tylan and Chuba’s Big Daddies™️. The first was Braydon Johnson doing a little Ryan Bailey next to Chuba’s Usain Bolty. Folks talked last year like a race between those two was a real event, and I believe it. Moar. Braydon. Johnson.

The second was that hit up the seam to Jelani. I’ve been doing everything short of @ing Coach McEndoo on Twitter trying to will Jelani a look or two up the middle, and Sanders finally hit him on one. It was a tough scene in the first half watching the better Kolar brother do wicked things to these Cowboys thinking, “OSU’s guy is even better than this!” so Jelani’s reception was a nice answer.

I’d like a few more answers in the weeks to come.

10. What now?

I have no idea. OSU won, OU lost, Texas lost. OSU is now a couple of plays in Lubbock from being T3 in the Big 12 going to November. This is why you don’t make declarations about jobs in the middle of seasons in the middle of October.

Is all well in OSU world? No, I don’t think that. I think OSU’s offense is still wildly underperforming — they scored 2.1 points per drive, which is nothing to throw a parade over — and I trust any Big 12 defense to be consistent about as much as I trust my 2-year-old to stay in his bedroom at night.

More than anything, Saturday served as a reminder that nothing is as wooly or as unpredictable as a college football season. Mike Gundy has pulled himself out of deeper holes than the one the Pokes were in going to Ames, and momentum and confidence in CFB are sometimes more meaningful than tackling and punt returns.

Oklahoma State’s pulse is still faintly active both for this season and into the future even if those of its fans are waning with every fourth quarter. The road out of the middle of the pack in a conference like the Big 12 is long and it won’t ever happen in one game or even a multiple-game stretch. OSU needs to find itself offensively down the stretch, but if it does that — just like we saw on Saturday — anything can (and probably will) happen.

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